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Couture, Pavelski score early to boost Sharks playoff hopes with 3-1 win over Coyotes

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SAN JOSE, California — With each win, the challenge of getting back to the playoffs gets slightly more realistic for the San Jose Sharks even if they still need plenty of outside help to get there.

Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski scored in the opening 5 minutes and the Sharks held on for their fourth win in five games, 3-1 over the Arizona Coyotes on Friday night.

"We talked a while ago about playing well and putting a string of wins together and see what happens," coach Todd McLellan said. "The guys have done a good job. I don't think they're getting too far ahead. I don't think we feel any more comfortable now than we did a week ago. We shouldn't. We still need a lot of help."

Matt Nieto added an insurance goal late for the Sharks, who moved within three points of Los Angeles and Winnipeg in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. The Kings and Jets each have one game in hand over San Jose, which is trying to make the playoffs for an 11th straight season.

"We put ourselves in this position," Couture said. "We have no one to blame but ourselves that we're in the position we're in now. We can't change anything. We can't go back and win games that we lost. We can only win the games that are ahead of us. So that's what we're trying to do."

Antti Niemi made 20 saves in his return from an illness that forced him to miss the past two games.

Mark Arcobello scored for the Coyotes, who have lost 23 of 27 games and have not won in regulation since Feb. 3 in Columbus. Louis Domingue made 34 saves.

Arizona remained two points ahead of Buffalo, which has the worst record in the league and currently the best chance to win the draft lottery.

PHOTO: San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski (8) scores past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, April 3, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski (8) scores past Arizona Coyotes goalie Louis Domingue during the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, April 3, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

"They're a team with lots to play for and we didn't execute under pressure," coach Dave Tippett said. "We didn't match their desperation."

The first half of a home-and-home series between a team fighting for a playoff spot against one long eliminated got off to a predictable start with San Jose scoring twice quickly and outshooting Arizona 16-3 in the first period.

Couture got the scoring started just 58 seconds into the game when he beat Domingue with a shot to the glove side from the top of the circle.

The Sharks added to the lead just after a penalty to B.J. Crombeen expired when Patrick Marleau set up Pavelski for a one-timer from in close for his 37th goal of the season. It was Pavelski's sixth goal in four games this season against Arizona.

"It's always nice when you score early in a game," Couture said. "That was part of our game plan, get one on them early. We got two right away. So it was a good start to the game."

Things were so bad for Arizona that even what seemed like a goal was wiped away when David Moss put his glove on a puck that was about to trickle over the goal line.

The Coyotes managed to get on the board early in the second when Arcobello's centering pass deflected off defenseman Brent Burns' stick and in the net.

Arizona came close to getting the equalizer late in the second but Sam Gagner hit the post on one chance and Niemi just managed to get his glove on a deflected puck that was floating toward the empty net.

Nieto knocked in the rebound of a Chris Tierney shot late in the third to give San Jose breathing room.

NOTES: San Jose C Joe Thornton has gone seven straight games without a point, his longest drought since an eight-gamer early in the 1998-99 season. ... The Sharks had been outscored 5-0 in the first period this season against Arizona before getting the two goals Friday. ... San Jose F Mike Brown returned to the lineup for the first time since breaking his leg Dec. 9. ... Karl Stollery also made his San Jose debut in place of injured D Scott Hannan. ... Hannan was the team's nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

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Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: San Jose Sharks' Logan Couture, center, celebrates his goal with teammates Patrick Marleau (12) and Tomas Hertl during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Arizona Coyotes, Friday, April 3, 2015, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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